Sunday, December 18, 2011

Jerry Robinson & Joe Simon

When Jerry Robinson passed away last week on Dec 8th I began to organize a discussion about the Timely portion of his career. I have some wonderful photos and video I took of Jerry and Joe Simon during the New York Comicon in 2010 and wanted to supplement the piece with those.

Unfortunately, that post never got underway and now today, December 15th, comes the sad news that Joe Simon has "also" passed on.  I now realize what I captured last year is simply priceless.

Both creators are due their own blog posts in the future. Today I want to just show them together, two giants of the industry and the medium, both there at the very beginning and fortunate enough to live long, happy lives, seeing their creations, co-creations and their very artform flourish 70 years into a new century and beyond. Their talents have saturated popular culture, the silver screen and the very consciousness of the entertainment world.

So today I'm putting aside the data and statistics, just preferring to be an ordinary fan, thankful for what they gave us.

Some background....

Joe Simon:

The very first time I met Joe Simon was back in 1990. I was attending a Fred Greenberg show in New York and Joe was set up in the corner near the entrance with his son Jim, selling just published copies of the first printing of The Comic Book Makers. 

Now I attended those shows on a monthly basis and it was rare to have any guests whatsoever at those small affairs but somehow Joe was there! I went over, introduced myself and bought a copy of the book which Joe signed to me. I then spent about 20 minutes chatting about Timely, Jack Kirby, all kinds of stuff, and noticed that for the most part, I was the only one (outside of a handful of other fans) who even realized who was in their midst!

My recollection is that Joe didn't make too many con appearances but once again I saw him at a show on April 3, 2004. Here he is at his table with Vanguard publisher and pal J. David Spurlock.

Joe Simon with J. David Spurlock

Knowing he'd be there, and attending with Nick Caputo, I brought with me several copies of Martin Goodman's Red Circle pulps and detective magazines from 1940 and 1941 to show him.  Joe was the art director on Goodman's detective magazine line for a 13 month period from cover date Nov/40 to Dec/41 and select issues sported art by Simon, Jack Kirby and other moonlighting Timely artists. [A fuller accounting will be in my upcoming book, which can be ordered here: (order here)]

National Detective Cases Vol 1, #1 (Mar/41)

Simon & Kirby had also contributed a slew of illustrations to several pulps. I brought the Nov/40 issue of Marvel Stories and I wanted to see what Joe recalled about that period.

Vol 2, #3 (Nov/40), cover by J.W. Scott

Here is a short video clip taken while Joe signed the pulp above:

But that wasn't all. Joe was to give a panel discussion that day moderated by Spurlock. The panel rooms were in the basement of the hotel and we made our way with Joe down the large escalator to the ground floor, looking for the elevator to the basement. Guess what? The elevator was out of order! The only way down were two very long flights of steep stairs. Folks were very angry over this development and the panel was in immediate danger of being cancelled as Joe, then about 91 years old, was not expected to walk down two long flights of stone stairs.

With chaos about to ensue, I asked Joe whether he thought he could make it down if two people helped him. Joe's answer was "Easy!", so Nick Caputo and I got on both sides of him for support and slowly we walked him down the stairs one slow step at a time. The panel was a hit with Joe telling stories and answering questions. Then we reversed the process and walked him right back upstairs!

 Joe Simon and me on April 3, 2004

Jerry Robinson:

I met Jerry Robinson for the first time in 1999. He was going to be at a New York show so I took the opportunity to photocopy every story he had ever done for Timely, secure it into a bound volume, and present it to him, hoping to glean some recollections. Jerry was very happy to see the stories and immediately called over a young woman with him at his table, Marisa Furtado, a Brazilian documentary maker visiting New York to gather interviews and background for a documentary on Jerry ultimately to be titled Jerry Robinson em Profissao Cartunista - A Vida Apos Batman, or roughly translated from Portuguese, Jerry Robinson : Professional Cartoonist - Life After Batman.

Directed by Marisa Furtado and Paulo Serran, it traces Jerry's life and career from comic books to political cartoons and beyond. Interviews seen run from Stan Lee, Carmine Infantino and Mark Evanier (filmed at the 2000 White Plains Convention, I believe) to Jules Feiffer and many, many others. Jerry is interviewed extensively and older vintage interviews are also shown as well as tons of vintage photos from comics history. 

Marisa was extremely happy to see so much rare Robinson material all in one place and asked me to make cleaner copies and send them to her in Brazil. From a comic book standpoint, what I had showed her was quite literally what Jerry did  "after Batman"!  It's quite funny to see how she animated, yes "animated", photocopied panels from my Robinson Timely crime comics! The effect is akin to the Marvel Superhero animated cartoons of 1966. While I don't know when the documentary debuted, I did receive a copy of it from Marisa. The interviews are in English with Portuguese subtitles and the narration is in Portuguese with English sub-titles! It really is a great film filled with vintage creators, all coming together to honor Jerry.

Here below is a 4 minute clip about the documentary from Youtube. At 1:57 you can see one of my actual photocopies being animated after an intro by Stan Lee:

Which brings us to 2010. Let me set this up correctly....

On Saturday, October 9, 2010, I attended the New York Comicon with my friends Barry Pearl, Nick Caputo, John Caputo and Mike DeLisa.

Nick Caputo, Mike Delisa, Barry Pearl

We made the usual rounds, saw and talked to Irwin Hasen, there promoting his documentary Irwin: A New York Story. I always want to pick the brain and memories of golden-age artists whenever there's a chance so I presented him with a complete set of his Ferret stories from the early issues of Marvel Mystery Comics, stories he hadn't seen in decades. Hasen related that he'd done these stories as a freelancer through the Lloyd Jacquet shop and never actually been on staff at the shop.

Irwin Hasen (on the right)

Next I spent some time talking to Al Jaffee,  promoting his new biography Al Jaffee's Mad Life. 

Al Jaffee

Syd Shores' daughter Nancy was also at the show and I introduced Nancy to Al, knowing Al was an old colleague and friend of Syd's while on the staff at Timely. Nancy and I then spent time talking to Stan Goldberg for a while, another friend of Syd's, before saying our goodbyes and parting.

Stan Goldberg and Nancy Shores

Here is photo from 2009 of Nancy with her dad's old boss!

A Simon & Shores reunion! (February, 2009)

I then stopped by Jerry Robinson's table and chatted a bit about his new biography, Jerry Robinson - Ambassador of Comics. I had done a small bit of Timely Comics help in both Jerry's and Jaffee's books above, and was thrilled they were finally in print.

I had one last stop to make. Across the aisle from Jerry Robinson was Joe Simon, holding court among piles of the just released Simon and Kirby Superheroes, a massive tome of some of the greatest hero comics of all time.

I spotted Harry Mendryk and we spoke a bit about the book, how great it looked and how I was looking forward to all the subsequent volumes in the series. I also commented to Harry, Nick and Barry about what a great time Joe Simon seemed to be having. He was greeting guests, shaking hands, posing for photos and signing copies of the S&K volume with the vitality of a man 30 years younger. He was then currently 97!

As the end of the show loomed, I approached Joe with my freshly purchased copy and Joe was more than happy to sign it for me. I slid the book across the table and he opened it up, uncapping a pen.

Just then there was a commotion as a small scooter approached Joe's table. It was Jerry Robinson. Jerry  proceeded to get out of his conveyance and carefully made his way through a narrow space between tables, greeting Joe with a big hug.

Jerry greeting Joe

He then sat down next to Joe and they chatted as I used two hands to simultaneously photograph, videotape with a camcorder and even take video clips with a digital camera.

Below are two short video clips from that day. One captures Jerry arriving and greeting Joe. The other has them briefly chatting and comparing their relative ages! Sorry about the quality, this was not recorded in HD video.

At some point Jerry looked down at my book and asked Joe whether he was going to sign it.  Joe placed his signature on the first page and passed the book over to Jerry, who added his own signature above Joe's.

Jerry watching Joe sign his name

Joe passing the pen to Jerry

Jerry looking at the page

Jerry adding his signature to the book

I was in awe. Two of the grandmasters of the medium had converged on my book and I realized that what I had witnessed was something very special.

A photo of Joe and Jerry about to sign my book can be found in Joe's recent autobiography, Joe Simon - My Life in Comics.

Fourteen months later, both have left us.

One last moment from 2008. Goodbye Jerry and Joe! Forever in our hearts.


  1. All photographic images (except Nancy Shores with Joe Simon and 2008 image above) and video copyright Dr. Michael J. Vassallo
  2. Last photo above from Allen Bellman via Nancy Shores

Friday, December 9, 2011

Best Western

There are many secrets in the history of Marvel Comics. Last post I mentioned an upcoming book by myself and Blake Bell that will show many of the rarely seen hidden Timely gems lost to history and buried in the non-comics publications of Martin Goodman's publishing line.

As a long time collector and researcher of Martin Goodman's pulp and magazine line, I've been accumulating items and data for quite a while. As part of the research involve in such a project, a massive study of Goodman's pulp empire produced some revelations that I've already shown in previous posts. Now an additional item I will share here as it dovetails nicely once again with the comic book line. 1

Back in January I did a post on the cross-format interweaving of publishing histories of Complete Detective (pulp)Complete Detective Cases (magazine) and Amazing Detective Cases (magazine & comic book):

I showed that the pulp Complete Detective ran six issues from Vol 1, #1 (May/38) to Vol 1, #6 (Oct/39) before changing to the true-crime magazine Complete Detective Cases Vol 2, #1 (Dec/39).

Vol 2, #1 (Dec/39)
Vol 1, #1 (May/38) (Norman Saunders art)

I likewise showed that the true crime magazine Amazing Detective Cases suspended publication with Vol 10, #2 (July/50) and continued as a comic book from issues #3 (Nov/50) through #14 (Sept/52), before resuming as a true-crime magazine with Vol 10, #3 (Winter/53).

Vol 10, #2 (July/50)
#3 (Nov/50)

At the end of the blog post, my pal Tom Lammers left a comment speculating about the strange numbering of the Best Western comic book, wondering if the answer had to do with a pulp antecedent. Another reader correctly mentioned that there was also a same named Goodman pulp.

Time-lining the entirety of Martin Goodman's pulp output does in fact shed some light on this question. Final answers are another matter!

So here is the background....

Best Western Magazine was the fifth western pulp title in Goodman's pulp line, debuting with Vol 1, #1 (Sept/35) and published under the Goodman publishing name Western Fiction Publishing Co., Inc. The cover artwork is by the most prolific Goodman cover painter of all, J.W. Scott (John Walter Scott, 1907-1987), and interior illustrations are by the most prolific Goodman "western" pulp interior illustrator, Lorence F. Bjorklund (L.F. Bjorklund, 1913-1978) [One report has his birth year as 1911].

Vol 1, #1 (Sept/35) (J.W. Scott cover)

L.F. Bjorklund BEST WESTERN Vol 1, #1 (Sept35) p.4

The title would progress bi-monthly, then quarterly throughout the 1930's and into the 1940's (sometimes dropping the word "magazine" to only Best Western) until Vol 4, #9 (Feb/42), where the publishing company changed to Interstate Publishing Corp. It would take another 20 months for the next two issues to appear, Vol 4, #10 (Oct/43) and Vol 4, #11 (Jan/44). At this point the title is seemingly cancelled along with 99% of Goodman's pulp line. Only Complete Western Book Magazine, Goodman's earliest and most prolific pulp title line, continued on through this dead pulp period of 1944, 1945 and the nearly dead year of 1946. 

Here are some additional cover scans of issues through this period from my collection:

Vol 2, #4 (Mar/37) (J.W. Scott cover)

Notice above the earliest version of Goodman's "Red Circle" logo in the lower right corner, literally a red "spot".

Vol 3, #6 (Apr/39) (J.W. Scott cover)

Vol 4, #4 (July/40) (J.W. Scott cover)

Vol 4, #9 (Feb/42) (J.W. Scott cover)

After a nearly 4 year hiatus, the title returns as Best Western Novels (along with a newly revived Goodman pulp line) with Vol 5, #1 (Nov/47) and 6 additional issues appear up through Vol 5, #7 (Mar/49). 

Vol 5, #5 (Nov/48) 

The title then appears to die again. Or does it?

In 1949, completely out of the blue, two issues of a Best Western "comic book" appear, Vol 1, #58 (June/49) and Vol 1, #59 (Aug/49), both likewise published by Interstate Publishing Corp. and putting a two-issue comic book coda onto the end of the Timely-era Best Western pulp run. Both issues below sport the circular "Marvel Comic" logo that is nothing more than a reverse version of the classic "Red Circle" pulp colophon.

#58 (June/49) (Syd Shores w/? cover art)

The cover to issue #58 (June/49) looks like a diverse hands job. I see Syd Shores, especially in the face of Two-Gun Kid,  but as Jim Vadeboncoeur notes, the figures are beefier than Shores usually renders. John Buscema could also be here. Inside are 3 stories featuring 3 different western characters, drawn by a who's who royalty of artists. Filtered through the the Timely shop inkers and piecemeal production methods, most of the art is uninspiring and far from the best work of these great artists, although both Severin and Heath are in the infancy of their careers

First is a 12 page Two-Gun Kid story where the kid seems primarily penciled by Shores. I think I see John Severin here also on a few pages as well as other hands like John Buscema and even Gene Colan. A real Timely jam job using a quartet of future Marvel greats! Severin then pencils a 9 page Black Rider story next. This is followed by Russ Heath on Kid Colt Outlaw.

#5106 Shores, Severin, et al  Two-Gun Kid      "The Million Dollar Train Robbery!" 12 pages
#5212 Severin/?                    Black Rider         "Blood on the Range!"                       9 pages
#5282 Heath/Heath               Kid Colt Outlaw  "The Wicked Wedding!"                    4 pages

#5106 BEST WESTERN #58 (June49) p.1 
(Shores, Buscema, Severin, Colan, ?)

#5212 BEST WESTERN #58 (June49) p.1 (Severin)

#5282 BEST WESTERN #58 (June49) p.1 (Heath)

#59 (Aug/49) (John Severin cover - his "first", as per Severin)

Issue #59's cover is by John Severin and Severin identified it as his very first. Russ Heath leads off with a 10 page Kid Colt Outlaw story. The Black Rider artist is Severin with an inker and Shores  and Severin take the Two-Gun Kid story. The one-page filler "Scrap Book of the West", according to Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr., could possibly be Mario De Marco, a noted western filler artist who drew westerns for Charlton and fact fillers for Treasure Chest.

#5065 Heath                        Kid Colt Outlaw  "The Mystery of the Mad Monk!" 10p.
#5131 Mario De Marco (?)  Feature: Scrapbook of the West                                  1p.
#5587 Severin/?                   Black Rider         "The Black Rider Strikes!"               5p.
#5372 Shores w/Severin      Two-Gun Kid      "The Secret of the Valley of Fear!"   8p.

#5065 BEST WESTERN #59 (Aug49) p.1 (Heath)

#5131 BEST WESTERN #59 (Aug49) 
Mario De Marco (?)

#5587 BEST WESTERN #59 (Aug49) p.1 
Severin /?

#5587 BEST WESTERN #59 (Aug49) p.1
(Shores w/Severin)

But where did this numbering come from? #58? #59?

The first thought that jumped into my head was that perhaps these were the 58th and 59th issues in the long Best Western publishing run. A quick count of all the pulp issues proves this not so. There had only been 36 previous pulp issues in this title so if anything, these two comic book issues should have been #37 and #38, respectively.

No, there had to be a different explanation, but nothing in the pulps seemed to work out. I next looked back over in the comic book line. Fifteen years ago I time-lined the entirety of Martin Goodman's comic book line from 1939-1969 onto an enormous 10 foot spreadsheet and taped it to a wall. Looking at this huge graph makes it easy to see comic book titles and issues plotted by months and years in an ongoing, mushrooming fashion. Here is a small 5 foot by 5 foot section from an old photo. The yellow line coming down on the right side is the demarcation of the Atlas implosion. The timeline continues for another 5 feet to the right.

Absolutely "nothing" appears to explain Best Western #59. The closest numerical and distance match is the title Terrytoons, which ends its Timely run at #59 (Aug/47) and was published by the sub-company Timely Comics, Inc., nearly two whole years before Best Western #58 appears. It's the closest numerical match, meaning that it's remotely possible Best Western "spun off" the near-last issue of Terrytoons, #57 (June/47). Maybe it was a clerical error not unlike Love Tales #59. Perhaps the Best Western comic book should have been #60 and #61, cleanly following Terrytoons' numbering.

TERRYTOONS #57 (June/47)

So is this cover above the answer to where Best Western #58 derived? I'm extremely doubtful about the whole thing, but it's the only thing I can come up with. I just don't have the answer and perhaps this one will never be solved.


Right after this post was put to bed, my pal Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. made a startling revelation that may have solved this mystery! In fact, it's so obvious I cannot believe I didn't consider this as it was right under my nose all along! Right after the last pulp Best Western issue, Vol 5, #7, the first comic book issue is #58. You see it? There is no Vol 5, #8 but Goodman squeezes it to #58! And then, what would have been Vol 5, #9 becomes #59! Can we know for sure? No, but it is absolutely the best possible answer. Martin Goodman loved to frequently launch new titles with "high" numbers, making them look like newsstand veterans as well as fooling the post office looking to collect on the registration of new titles. Usually the high numbers carried on from earlier cancelled comic titles, but as I've shown, once in a while Goodman used cross-format methods. Thanks, Jim!

With that, Best Western #59 now changes to Western Outlaws and Sheriffs #60 (Dec/49) and will run through #73 (June/52) before cancellation. Issue #60 below is best known for containing the very first all Joe Maneely work for Timely/Atlas. But that's a story for another time, namely my Joe Maneely art biography.

We're still not done yet. Starting in early 1951, Goodman once again revives his Best Western pulp, this time allowing it to pick up the numbering Vol 2, #2 (June/51) from the just cancelled Three Western Novels Vol 2, #1 (Dec/50) and likewise picking up its publishing entity, Stadium Publishing Corp.

This 2nd incarnation of Best Western would last 26 issues until Vol 6, #3 (Mar/57). 15 of these covers will be painted by Norman Saunders. Many issues, beginning in1954, sport reprinted stories from as far back as the 1930's, sometimes to the tune of 3 or 4 reprinted stories an issue.

Vol 3, #2 (Nov/52)  (Norman Saunders cover art)

Vol 3, #6 (Aug/53) (Norman Saunders cover art)

Vol 4, #6 (Dec/54) (Norman Saunders cover art)

Vol 5, #1 (Mar/55)

Vol 5, #3 (Sept/55) (Norman Saunders cover art)

Vol 6, #1 (Sept/56)

And the final (62nd) issue, March, 1957...

Vol 6, #3  (Mar/57)


  1. Vassallo, Michael J., All scans in this blog post sourced from my own private collection.